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NWFA conference delivers value for installers, vendors

April 16/23, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 22

By Reginald Tucker

 

Tampa, Fla.—Scores of hardwood flooring contractors, manufacturers and distributors converged at the Tampa Bay Convention Center here recently for the 33rd annual National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) conference and expo. As advertised, the event offered something for everyone in attendance—new products galore, networking and educational opportunities, technical tips and even some entertainment.

“It was a great event,” Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO, told FCNews. “In terms of numbers, we had about 3,000 people attend the expo—which has been pretty steady when you look at our shows over the past few years. We felt really good about it.”

Martin has good reason. The NWFA conference and expo was named one of the 50 fastest-growing trade shows for the past six consecutive years. Beyond the sprawling showcase of hardwood flooring products, installation tools and accessories, a big draw for attendees is the depth of technical, marketing and management sessions offered. In fact, the conference portion of the event boasted 20-plus hours of educational programming.

“We try to devise seminars that address the needs of all the channel segments we serve,” Martin explained, citing the mix of attendees who come to the show. What’s more, conference sessions are structured in such a fashion that encourages audience participation and interaction. “It’s not people talking ‘at you’ all the time. To that end, the sessions are arranged so participants are vocal and active during at least one-third of the sessions to keep them engaged. This allows everyone to learn from each other.”

Indeed, training and education remain a top priority for the association—and this extends beyond the instruction provided during NWFA’s renown installation schools held at its headquarters in Chesterfield, Mo., as well as regional training events across the country. During his opening keynote address to attendees, Martin provided an update on NWFAU—the group’s online training program. Since its inception in the summer of 2016, more than 30,000 courses have been completed by roughly 5,000 users—that translates into about 45 courses taken daily.

“We’re very encouraged by the participation we’re seeing in our online NWFA University,” Martin stated. “At the end of the day, the program benefits retailers, installers and consumers alike.”

Vendors see the value

Many of the exhibitors FCNews spoke to during the product showcase applaud the efforts NWFA management has made over the years to provide value for all members involved. Not only does the NWFA develop programs designed to raise the skill level of the dozens of professional hardwood flooring contractors in attendance, but the association goes above and beyond to deliver a captive audience for manufacturer members and vendor partners

“We’re here to support the industry and the association,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “Many of the attendees here service the new home construction and residential replacement markets—both of which are important sectors for us.”

Pierre Thabet, president and CEO of Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand of hardwood floors, agrees. “If you’re looking to reach the specialty hardwood flooring contractor, then this is the place to be,” he said. “This is where you meet the installers who really know all about hardwood flooring.”

Mannington and Mirage are not alone. Paul Rezuke, vice president, residential sales, USA, Wickham Flooring, also sees the value in exhibiting at the NWFA expo. “It’s been a really great show for us,” he told FCNews on the second day of the exhibition. “We feel it’s important to have a presence here as we expand our go-to-market strategy in the U.S. We’ve had some pretty good leads.”

Others see attending the expo as an opportunity to not only get in front of professional contractors, but also wood flooring distributors. “We’re here to show our new offerings in our branded Hearthwood line as well as products on the American OEM side that we can offer to distributors on a private-label basis,” said Allie Finkell, executive vice president.

Show stoppers

Among the key highlights of the 2018 NWFA show was the Plank Tank contest the association created to encourage members to submit their industry-related business ideas. Modeled after ABC Network’s “Shark Tank,” contestants in NWFA’s Plank Tank pitched their idea during the opening general session.

The competition was hosted by Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac, owners of Cousins Maine Lobster, who appeared on “Shark Tank” in a previous season. The businessmen, known for growing their small food truck start-up into a national franchise success, also shared their experiences with attendees during the keynote presentation. The celebrity judges, along with a team of wood flooring professionals, reviewed previously submitted business ideas to determine their merits.

The contest winner, which was announced on the last day of the show along with the NWFA Floor of the Year finalists (see page 8), was Insight Flooring Technologies. The company was recognized for QuoteHero, an app that allows contractors and estimators to measure the square footage of rooms, estimate jobs and close sales on the spot. Insight Flooring Technologies received a $15,000 customized package of NWFA marketing and education products and services.

NWFA’s Martin applauded the concept. “It was good to see NWFA members up there on stage talking about new tools and innovations that will help the industry.”

Look for more coverage of the 2018 NWFA expo in upcoming editions of FCNews.

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Boa-Franc receives highest honor at the Grand Prix Québécois de la qualité Awards

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 4.02.56 PMSaint-Georges, Quebec, Canada–For the second time in a row, Boa-Franc has received the highest award bestowed by the Quebec government on businesses and organizations that successfully apply best business practices.

A Grand Prix in the small to medium-size independent manufacturing company category was presented to Boa-Franc in a ceremony at the Palais des congrès de Montréal, Nov. 16. This award is on par with the Malcom Baldridge National Quality Award in the United States.

The award recognizes organizational excellence and outstanding results, but Boa-Franc was further singled out by the jury for the quality of its strategic planning process and its attentiveness to both customers and markets.

“I’m accepting this award on behalf of all our employees, clients and suppliers, who share the same dedication to quality that’s been driving our organization since it was founded 35 years ago,” said Jacques Beaudoin, Boa-Franc executive vice president and CEO, who accepted the award for Pierre Thabet, Boa-Franc president, and the company’s 475 employees. “It’s proof positive teamwork, continuous improvement and making everyone accountable for quality really do pay off.”

The company has been accruing distinctions for quality in recent years. Retailers and other flooring professionals have voted it No. 1 for quality over 27 times in surveys conducted by trade magazines; Boa-Franc was named Best Employer in Canada in 2016 and 2017, took gold at the 2013 Canada Awards for Excellence and got top honors at the 2012 Grands Prix Québécois de la qualité Awards.

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Thabet receives FCNews’ Lifetime Achievement Award

October 9/16, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 9

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.24.15 AMSt. Georges, Quebec, Canada—Pierre Thabet, owner of Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage prefinished hardwood flooring brand, was honored Sept. 14 with Floor Covering News’ sixth annual Al Wahnon Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was presented to Thabet by publisher and editorial director Steven Feldman, associate publisher Dustin Aaronson and sales associate Nadia Ramlakhan at Boa-Franc’s headquarters here.

Floor Covering News established the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 to recognize and celebrate those people who have not only made significant contributions to the floor covering industry, but, more important, worked toward its betterment and made a difference over a sustained period of time. Simply stated, the award is intended to recognize service and leadership that is of a scope and duration to be considered a lifetime achievement.

Thabet exemplifies everything this publication seeks in a Lifetime Achievement Award winner. It was 1983 when Thabet purchased Boa-Franc, which at the time had three employees. Six months later, he watched as flames tore apart his establishment. It was Saturday, March 3, 1984, and it was 25 degrees below zero. He tried to save as much as possible but then the roof collapsed. By 9:45 p.m. that night, nothing was left but ashes.

Thabet returned to the location the next day at 4:30 a.m., gathered his insurance papers and put together a plan to rebuild. Seventeen days later, the reconstructing began. The company was back in production less than three months later.

Out of the ashes of that March 3 fire a flame was lit that still burns 33 years later. Thabet rebuilt and grew his company to become the fourth-largest hardwood flooring manufacturer in North America with nearly 400 employees.

Growing up in St. Georges, Thabet said many people from this area were instilled with the work ethic that success only comes from perseverance. One of his favorite sayings is: “I play not to play, I play to win. To be the best in everything is not possible, but you should be the best at what you commit to. One of our common values at Mirage is ‘GCS,’ which stands for good common sense. It is about having pride in what we do.”

Thabet founded Boa-Franc with the belief that quality would be the best weapon to differentiate itself from its competition. And he has hammered that “quality” theme for over 30 years. He believes quality extends beyond a product—it is the quality of service you provide; it’s the people you hire and the customers with which you align yourself.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.25.10 AM“Pierre’s drive for progress and quality has established a culture that is dedicated to doing the best work in all things and at all times,” said Bruce Zwicker, the former CEO of J.J. Haines, the industry’s leading distributor. “The word ‘compromise’ is not in his vocabulary. His flair for flooring fashion and design means Mirage offers some of the most beautiful hardwood floors available.

“Consumers will tell you the product is virtually flawless,” he continued. “Mirage is the best flooring manufacturer in North America and probably the world.”

Mirage and Thabet are never satisfied with the status quo and have worked relentlessly for the past 33 years to produce quality products on a consistent basis without compromise. The company strives to be the best every day by applying rigorous and painstakingly small details that make all the difference in creating a high-quality product.

Ray Mancini Jr., president of Belknap White Group, the industry’s No. 3 distributor in sales, has carried the Mirage brand for seven years. When asked what attributes come to mind when he thinks of Mirage, he said, “Best quality, great culture, great partners and successful, excellent marketers. They are very good at communicating their mission and vision to their people.”

Thabet, in keeping with his unselfish manner, credits his employees for the company’s ongoing success. “This award belongs to every employee from the Boa-Franc team. They deserve all the credit because they’re the ones who have made all the difference these past 35 years. Of course, nobody can be the best in everything they do, but you should strive to be the best at what you’re really committed to.”

Impact outside flooring
But owning arguably the best hardwood flooring company in the world is only part of what makes Thabet deserving of a Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also worked for the betterment of his community. Through Boa-Franc, Thabet supports the regional hospital foundation, children—as it relates to both health and sports—the homeless and people with addictions. He believes he has been blessed to have a beautiful, healthy and loving family (four children and 11 grandchildren) and to live in a safe and prosperous community. With that, he recognizes there are those born without a supporting family, health and resources. Thabet believes it is our duty to give back to the community and help those less fortunate by giving them access to shelter, food, good hospitals and other services.

Thabet has also stepped up when someone at Boa-Franc needs assistance. There was a time when the wife of an employee had been enduring multiple symptoms of severe joint inflammation, extreme fatigue and even had to stop working. One day Thabet learned after numerous visits with her physician, the employee’s wife had not received a specific diagnosis. He proceeded to introduce the couple to top-of-the-line physicians and specialists. He followed up with the physician and employee’s wife to make sure she was receiving the appropriate care. She eventually was diagnosed with Lyme disease and is now getting proper treatment for her condition.

Another example: Back in the spring of 2015, Thabet became the honorary president of the annual fund raiser campaign for LEUCAN, which provides services and care to sick children dealing with cancer. Among the activities was to have your head shaved in a symbol of empathy toward the sick children battling cancer. Thabet convinced a group of 22 Boa-Franc employees, including himself, to be shaved against sponsorships that the company matched dollar for dollar. It ended up gathering $93,000 from employees and Boa-Franc, and totaling $238,000 from Pierre’s presidency.

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Boa-Franc named 2017 Best Employer in Canada, Gold Level

boa_franc_g_p__mirage_1248298746-680x320Saint-Georges—Boa-Franc, manufacturer of the Mirage hardwood flooring brand, was named for the second consecutive year among the Best Employers in Canada for 2017, according to a survey by Aon in Canada. This survey of 300 organizations publicly recognizes employers that have established outstanding work environments.

Boa-Franc owes its Gold Level ranking in large part to its efforts with respect to engagement, leadership, performance culture and employer brand.

“Working for a company named Best Employer by its workforce for the second year in a row is extremely motivating and gratifying for our 330 employees,” Pierre Thabet, Boa-Franc president, said. “I’m so proud of the entire Boa-Franc team—a passionate, talented team with the spirit that drives us every day to excel. That’s what makes Boa-Franc different from other companies.”

From a human resources perspective, the benefits of this distinction are many. “For the second consecutive year, employees of all levels at Boa-Franc have expressed their appreciation of the company,” said Nicolas Jean, human resources manager at Boa-Franc. “We are delighted with the results, which also point out areas we should focus to become even better. It’s right in line with the continuous improvement culture that’s been a part of Boa-Franc’s DNA for over 30 years.”

The Saint-Georges company behind the Mirage brand has earned 30 distinctions for quality and organizational excellence, including 1st Best Employer in Quebec in 2005, 4th Best Employer in Canada in 2007, and Best Employer in Canada, Gold Level in 2016.

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Mirage presents annual Spirit Awards

President award-Ohio ValleySaint-Georges, Quebec—Mirage, the hardwood flooring brand of Boa-Franc, presented its annual Spirit Awards at its distributor dinner held at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas Jan. 22. The awards recognize Mirage distributors who have demonstrated outstanding performance during the prior year.

Tri-West won its first Maestro Award, Ohio Valley Flooring earned the President’s Award for the second consecutive year and Derr Flooring earned its fourth consecutive Golden Growth Award.

“Mirage has become a best-in-class brand thanks to the passion and dedication of our people and partners,” said Pierre Thabet, president of Boa-Franc. “So it’s important for us to recognize the ongoing efforts of our distributors who, day in and day out, help our brand succeed.”

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Wood: Latest trends include less raw material angst

 Volume 28/Number 6; September 1/8, 2014

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.50.28 AMAfter 18 months of quarterly price hikes among major domestic hardwood flooring manufacturers—the result of volatile increases in raw material costs—the last five months have seen relative market tranquility as lumber costs have stabilized.

While that is good news on the surface, prices remain at higher than normal levels, and there have not been any significant decreases in the past few months.

Milton Goodwin, vice president of hardwood products at Armstrong, said the conditions that sent prices soaring in late 2012 “are still potentially out there, ready to rear its ugly head.”

But, at least for now, raw materials costs have hit a ceiling and are not increasing as they were six months ago. “This is good news for all in our industry as things could not have remained the same without severe impacts on the overall sales of hardwood floors,” said Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing for Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand.

Drew Hash, vice president of hardwood, Shaw Industries, said raw material costs are always a key factor in manufacturing. “Engineered wood products represent a good option for more price-point-sensitive consumers,” he noted. “Technology offers new textures and visuals such as wire brushing and different scraping techniques.”

Wider, wider, wider

In terms of product trends, bigger continues to be better when it comes to wood planks. The reason is apparent, as larger, longer boards add visual interest to a room, as does combining multi-widths in one space, flooring pros said. “Planks aren’t limited to the floor, but rather are being used everywhere—from walls to ceilings, and even bedroom headboards,” said Pricilla Bergeron, communications manager at Lauzon Distinctive Hardwood Floors.

Whereas 2¼-inch strip flooring was once the standard, 5-inch strips are now in vogue, with 6- and 7-inch widths becoming the new upgrades, according to Dan Natkin, director of laminate and hardwood flooring at Mannington. “We are seeing widths as large as 10 inches; however, these are highly specialized,” he noted.

Made in America

The natural appearance and authentic look of North American species such as oak, maple and hickory is resonating with consumers who are choosing domestic over exotic and imported species in greater numbers. Robitaille suggested this is because consumers are looking for wood with more character and because they tend to purchase local.

Indeed, the Made in America movement (as well as Made in Canada) is gaining steam as a marketing advantage for domestic producers. Last month, for example, continuing a recent spate of onshoring developments, Armstrong announced it was closing an engineered hardwood flooring facility in China and relocating it to Somerset, Ky.

Armstrong, which has enjoyed success with its American Scrape collection, is readying a slew of 2015 introductions and will continue to tout its Made in America message.

Others are leveraging that message as well. “We are continuing to see consumers get behind the Made in America movement and self-limit their selections to products manufactured in the United States,” said Brian Greenwell, vice president of marketing at Mullican Flooring. “As a result, we are seeing significant consumer demand for four domestic species: white oak, red oak, hickory and maple. Considered to be traditional, oak has always been popular.”

Oak remains the popular domestic species due to advancements in wire brushing techniques, etching and distressed looks. “Harvesting improvements and the way manufacturers are able to craft and cut each board allow for more customization of the look and feel of oak,” Hash said. “All these things together have given oak a new look, bringing it to the forefront of the market once again.”

Design, color trends

The increase in consumer interest in the hickory and maple species can be attributed to the continued popularity of hand-sculpted textures, as most hand-sculpted business is done with those species.

Natkin said oak is seeing a tremendous resurgence, particularly the white variety. “Colors are becoming softer and more muted, and darker colors are fading in popularity,” he said. “Character in the wood continues to rise as the naturals trend continues. The types of knots and mineral that we were cutting out 10 years ago are now extremely desirable.”

Robitaille also noted that lighter colors are starting to reappear and are being combined with very rustic grading of wood with knots and dark mineral streaks—all of this on wide widths.

Some hardwood executives said smooth, high-gloss wood floors are losing ground due to their manmade, mass-produced appearance, while low-gloss or matte surfaces are the new favorite, especially those that have been scraped with a soft wire brush, revealing the true character of the grain.

Bergeron said neutral tones tend to reveal more of the grain pattern and create a welcoming feel in a room. “Mixing up the décor with multi-tone paneling adds additional dimension and appeal to any space,” she explained.

Michel Collin, director of marketing at Mercier, said while dark colors are fading out, replaced by lighter ones, “wide, textured and color variation are still in demand.”

Conversely, Greenwell said darker colors create what he called “a dramatic and stylish look throughout the space, accenting the wood grain while masking scuffs and scratches.”

Outlook

Several executives said the first half of 2014 was sluggish for the remodel market while builder remained quite strong. There is hope for a stronger 2014 finish for the remodel sector. “Based on the latest consumer confidence numbers—which are trending higher—we are hopeful we will see some improved remodel activity,” Natkin said.

And there’s no surprise in product trends: The hot style will continue to be wider widths, punctuated by hand-sculpted and wire-brushed finishes.

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Canadian mills: Quality you can count on

July 7/14, 2014; Volume 28/Number 2

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.12.20 AM

It is said that location is everything, and for hardwood flooring manufacturers in Canada—home to 10% of the world’s forests—that means access to five major forest regions, each with its own specific climate, topography and soil.

Several different types of wood that are used for flooring are grown in Canadian forests, including birch, ash, beech, oak and maple. Yellow birch, for example, has a grain that is similar to maple’s and is highly sought after in furniture and flooring.

According to flooring professionals north of the border, one of the reasons Canada’s wood is of such good quality is because of the climate. The coldness makes the wood grow slower, which results in tighter and stronger product with more consistent tones of color.

Tight growth rings, strong fibers and consistent grain patterns are the characteristics that give Quebec hardwood its strength and durability. Quebec-based flooring companies, including Mirage, Mercier, Lauzon and Preverco, have benefited from the climate and richness of forestland to produce quality products.

And yet, access to quality raw materials is only part of the process; the manufacturing method must also be at a high level, according to Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand. “Offering superior quality products has always been our No. 1 priority,” he said. “Therefore, maintaining this high level of quality is our daily challenge, a goal each of our employees strives for.”

The name Mirage is synonymous with quality, and it is known throughout the industry for its exacting standards.

As Robitaille explained, “Each day, hundreds of quality checks are being performed throughout the production process, from the purchase of raw material to the logistics involved in the delivery to the customers. Nothing is left to chance. Anyone can [make] a quality product. What is more difficult is to [provide] quality all the time. We all know it’s harder to stay on top than it is to get there in the first place. That’s why we work hard every day, taking nothing for granted and constantly striving to reinvent ourselves.”

Quality manufacturing is part of Mercier’s heritage as well. More than a decade ago, the company streamlined its manufacturing and raw materials pipeline by bringing on a sawmill that today provides 100% of the raw materials used by Mercier. Michel Collin, director of marketing, said beyond the manufacturing capability, drilling down to the smallest details is important. “We know we need to do things differently to be recognized in the U.S. market and that we need to offer [additional] value that domestic manufacturers cannot,” he said. “It all starts with the commitment to the quality program every day—from a rigorous manufacturing process, quality control and monitoring, to vertical integration and the training of our employees. In the end it’s not only quality production overall but it’s design and style of our product as well.”

What goes into making hardwood flooring of such high quality? It is, quite simply, an extensive and rigorous quality control process. For Mirage, it moves from the worker in the plant to the sales reps in the field. “Our employees pursue the same goal: going above and beyond customer expectations and constantly adapting to their needs,” Robitaille said. “This is what Mirage’s reputation is built on and what we’ll continue to work on each day. The numerous quality awards received in the last decade—more than 23—prove our efforts are worth it. It doesn’t mean we have to stop because of our success; quality is a journey, not a destination.”’

World-class manufacturing operations

Not resting on its laurels, Canadian manufacturers continue to develop and market innovative technology such as sawmill operations that optimize the yield of every tree. These new, highly automated milling technologies produce more wood from fewer trees. Only a maximum of 5% of each cut tree is not used. This 5% is comprised of branches, which the tree cutters leave on the forest floor in order to biodegrade and aid future tree growth.

Wickham Hardwood Flooring, located near Drummondville, Quebec, said it reinvests a significant portion of its yearly earnings back into its facilities. In 1996, the company sought to enhance its strategic position by implementing an automated production line for varnishing its hardwood floorboards. Since then, the company has added a new sawmill, kilns, a processing plant and a finishing line.

“The reputation of Canadian mills is built on a strong expertise of the wood manufacturing process—from the drying stage to warehousing in perfect temperature and humidity conditions,” explained Etienne Chabot, vice president of marketing at Preverco.

That effort has not gone unnoticed among consumers. “We recently did a survey among our customers,” Chabot said, “and Made in Canada remains one of the top five reasons why they prefer to buy Canadian hardwood vs. a substitute product.”

 

In pursuit of quality 

Flooring retailers who have toured Mirage’s production facility in Saint-Georges, Quebec, come away impressed by the quality control that takes place, even noting the cleanliness of the plant. “It is so clean you could eat off the floor,” said Scott Milligan, owner of Heartland Wood Flooring, a Pompano Beach, Fla.-based retailer who called the tour a “must-see” for anyone in the flooring industry. The following “indicator of quality/quality checks,” as Mirage refers to it, is a review of what is done in the plant in terms of quality control. According to Robitaille, the points below are also indicators of quality that customers should look for when shopping for high quality hardwood floors.

1) The wood is stable and durable At Mirage, production doesn’t start until the wood has dried for as long as each species requires. This is to ensure that the floor won’t shrink or split in the years to come.

2) Straight, uniformly thick boards Workers place a few boards on the floor next to one another. The boards should fit together perfectly, with no noticeable variations in thickness.

3) Small and consistent V joints When placed alongside one another, the boards form V joints where they meet. Perfect joints will help the floor stay resilient and make it easier to clean.

4) Consistent color from one box to the next Color applied deep within joints gives floors a more uniform appearance. Workers watch to make sure that color is consistent from one box to another.

5) A clean, sanitary surface Antimicrobial agents added to the floor’s finish help surroundings stay clean and sanitary.

6) UV protection to fight yellowing Bright light and sun can cause wood from a naturally pale species to yellow. UV protection in the finish can reduce and slow this process.

7) Highest standard of finish Finish needs to be applied in just the right amount—neither too thin nor too thick—to avoid a plastic look. The beauty of the wood should shine through.

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Industry expects second half to be better than first

July 7/14, 2014; Volume 28/Number 2

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 10.40.11 AM

Despite a rocky start to the year—largely due to the unusually harsh winter that affected much of the country—2014 is still expected to be another modest growth year for the flooring industry, albeit perhaps not at the level many expected in late 2013.

“As we prepared for 2014 we anticipated that [positive] momentum would continue, expecting three or four years of steady improvement,” said Randy Merritt, president of Shaw residential. “Maybe we just hit a blip and will see a better second half.”

Neil Poland, president of Mullican Flooring, shared the sentiments of many when he said demand in 2014 has continued to grow but not at the rates of 2013 due to the colder winter. “Let’s hope the demand spike has just been delayed by the brutally cold winter,” he said. “We are optimistic the demand will accelerate in the next several months.”

Bruce Zwicker, CEO of Haines, the industry’s largest distributor, believes the overall flooring industry will grow 4.5% in 2014 driven by a 6% increase in the second half. More important, he believes the long-term fundamentals that drive the market, including housing starts, job creation, consumer confidence, etc., exist today.

Others, including Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand, agreed that a bad winter can’t derail the comeback. “The economy is definitely on the right track and we think it will continue to deliver a sustained growth over the next few years,” he noted.

Flooring retailers grind it out

Challenging times are nothing new for independent flooring dealers. They’ve been through it before with the economic struggles in the mid-2000s, and the successful ones have learned to rely on their business acumen to navigate through the rough patches.

“You just have to grind it out,” said Paul Johnson, president, Interiors One Carpet One in Tulsa, Okla. “You have to continue to improve your business fundamentals and reinvest in your company. Those who didn’t do that during the recession are behind the 8-ball and finding it is really hard to play catch-up.”

Flooring America’s fiscal year runs from October through September, and its first quarter ending in December 2013 was, according to the group, terrific. “Then things stalled, especially in the Northeast and Midwest with the terrible weather we had, and those areas are still limping along,” said Keith Spano, president.

Indeed, the general economy contracted in the first quarter by 2.9%, the worst three-month period since the Great Recession. However, recent economic data is far more encouraging for a better second half and beyond.

On July 3, the Labor Department announced U.S. employers accelerated their hiring in June, adding an encouraging 288,000 jobs to help drive the unemployment rate to 6.1%, the lowest since September 2008.

It was the fifth straight monthly job gain above 200,000—the best such stretch since the late 1990s tech boom. Over the past 12 months the economy has added nearly 2.5 million jobs—208,000 a month, the fastest year-over-year pace since May 2006.

The July 3 report from the Labor Department underscored that the U.S. economy is moving closer to full health.

Several retailers said they have already seen business activity spike, which in turn has forced them to scramble to fulfill orders. Spano said he recently visited Flooring America stores in 10 states in a two-week span, and noted that “everyone is slammed right now from a written standpoint. Everyone is busy, but we will wait to see how the delivered piece comes in.”

Nick Freadreacea, president of The Flooring Gallery in Louisville, Ky., said 2014 has been a tale of two sides. “Sales have been very good for the first half of the year but deliveries were slow due to the prolonged winter. Now the weather is great and we are doing all we can to get the huge backlog installed.”

Overall, Freadreacea said he sees business continuing to grow in the second half and expects 2014 to show marked improvement over the past several years.

July has historically been a busy month for flooring retailers, a trend that would be great if it holds true for 2014. Michael Dominique, owner of Michaels Floor Depot in Clearwater, Fla., said June was his best month of 2014, and sales in the first half were up 10% to 15% over 2013.

Bill Zeigler, owner of Zeigler & Sons, Hanover, Pa., said after an up and down first half, billings have come back strong in June, which “bodes well for a better second half.”

Scott Milligan, owner of Heartland Wood Flooring in Pompano Beach, Fla., said the first half of 2014 was his best ever, with much of that growth coming on the commercial side, as South Florida’s housing market continues to rebound.

Spano said the retail segment, while lagging at times, is showing signs of more robust activity. “We are starting to see jobs for the whole house coming through rather than one-room type jobs,” he said. “That leaves us optimistic for the second half.”

He added that data shows 22% of homes last year at this time were under water compared with 11% this year. “Still, the ones who are in positive territory are not investing in flooring just yet. But with five consecutive months of good job growth—[in excess of] 200,000 jobs created—there is reason for optimism.”

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Award of Excellence: Shaw captures its fifth Best Overall Manufacturer title

May 26/June 2, 2014; Volume 27/Number 28

FCNews' Award of ExcellenceGarden City, N.Y.—For the third time in four years—and fifth time in the award’s history—Shaw Industries was voted the industry’s Best Overall Manufacturer in the 18th annual Award of Excellence competition.

It was one of two major awards for Shaw, which also won the Award of Excellence for Environmental Leadership. Shaw has earned the award every year since its inception in 2010.

“These awards are an amazing testament to the hard work of our associates and their dedication to creating a better future for our customers and our communities,” said Randy Merritt, president of Shaw Industries.

“These awards are particularly meaningful because they are based on a survey of customers across the industry,” he continued. “Relationships with our customers are at the core of our success—and every associate has a role to play in ensuring that those relationships are developed and protected through superb service and high quality, innovative, sustainable products.

“Thank you to Floor Covering News for the honor. Thank you to our customers who voted for us. And thank you to all of our Shaw associates for serving our customers well.”

Mohawk Industries won Best Carpet Manufacturer for Group A, one of four awards for Mohawk companies. “At Mohawk, we continue to invest heavily in innovation in the carpet segment,” said Tom Lape,

John Godwin, executive VP, sales and marketing, Shaw Industries, and Piet Dossche, CEO, USFloors
John Godwin, executive VP, sales and marketing, Shaw Industries, and Piet Dossche, CEO, USFloors

president of Mohawk Flooring, residential. “We’re pleased that retailers have recognized these innovations in our products, such as EverStrand Soft Appeal carpets with our patented Continuum technology and our SmartStrand and SmartStrand Silk franchises. We appreciate this recognition from our valued retailers, and we will continue to offer innovative carpets that contribute to their business success and to consumer satisfaction.”

Meanwhile, three of Mohawk’s divisions took home first-place honors in their respective categories. Quick-Step won Best Laminate Manufacturer for Group A, Dal-Tile won Best Tile Manufacturer for Group A, and American Marazzi won Best Tile Manufacturer for Group B. Dal-Tile’s victory was its 16th consecutive; Marazzi has won eight times in a row.

Beaulieu America was honored for Best Carpet Manufacturer for Group B. “We’re a family company, so when we get recognition like this for our new carpet like Bliss Perfection, it’s like having members of your extended family—the dealers who voted for us—say, ‘Nice job!’” said Mike Amburgey, CMO, Beaulieu America Residential. “It’s a very special thing for all of us and we are very grateful.”

In the Best Hardwood Manufacturer category, Armstrong won for Group A.

“We are particularly honored by this award,” said Mara Villanueva-Heras, Armstrong’s vice president of marketing, AFP residential. “It’s not only recognition for our hardwood flooring products, but speaks to our relationships with our customers, our service and the value of our brand. We work hard every day to earn their business and loyalty. Over the past few years, Armstrong has implemented a strategy to drive product innovation, maintain a strong consumer focus and support our customers in their success. This recognition validates that we are succeeding. It speaks to the quality of our products, the level of service we provide and our commitment to helping our customers grow their businesses.”

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Mannington corporate communications director Betsy Amoroso is joined by Mohawk’s Mollie Surratt, senior director of public relations, and Elise Demboski, VP of creative services

Mirage won Best Hardwood Manufacturer in Group B for the second year in a row. “We would like to sincerely thank the retailers who voted for Mirage as the No. 1 quality hardwood brand in the industry,” said Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, manufacturer of the Mirage brand. “This first-place award confirms our constant work during the last year in providing retailers with the best quality hardwood flooring on the market—as it has been for the past 30 years.”

Mannington was named Best Resilient Manufacturer in Group A. “What an honor for Mannington to again receive the Award of Excellence for resilient,” said Ed Duncan, senior vice president of residential marketing. “Resilient flooring has been at the heart of our business since we were founded almost 100 years ago. Today resilient includes sheet vinyl as well as LVT, and of course Mannington’s new LVS line. To be recognized as the best in the industry for those categories means so much. We won’t rest on our laurels, though, so people can expect to continue to see Mannington at the forefront of innovation in both manufacturing and styling. Thank you to everyone who voted, and to Floor Covering News and Hanley Wood for supporting this awards program.”

In the alternative wood category, style and design innovator USFloors won the award for Best Cork/Bamboo Manufacturer. “There is no greater honor than being recognized by your customers,” said Piet Dossche, president and CEO. “We are committed to bringing the best products and solutions to our dealer partners and to remain a leader in innovation and sustainability. Cork and bamboo flooring are strong pillars on which USFloors was built and a prime focus for further growth. I thank the leadership at Floor Covering News for this great yearly initiative, which recognizes and highlights the innovation and performance excellence within our industry.”

Sponsored by FCNews and Hanley Wood, proprietors of Surfaces, the Award of Excellence is a way for manufacturers’ customers—retailers, distributors, designers, installers, specifiers, etc.—to honor the companies they feel consistently provide the best service, professionalism of sales force, management responsiveness, value, design, B2B, handling of claims and ease of doing business. In other words, those manufacturers they feel help them the best in running successful, profitable business operations, whether it be a retailer, distributorship, design center or installation workroom.

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Mirage’s Chris Thompson and Stan Snyder flank Formica’s Mike Havas

Readers of FCNews, as well as other industry personnel visiting trade shows such as Surfaces (and not employed by a manufacturer), voted between October 2013 and the end of March for the companies they felt best met the previously mentioned criteria in eight individual floor covering categories—Carpet, Area Rugs, Resilient, Hardwood, Tile, Laminate, Cushion/Underlayment and Cork/Bamboo—as well as the Best Overall mill and the manufacturer that best exemplified Environmental Leadership.

Ballots were featured in FCNews and readers could mail or fax them back, as well as vote online and at industry events such as Surfaces.

While the category awards were done on a simple, one vote per category/company format, both the Best Overall and Environmental Leadership awards required voters to fill in their choices for first, second and third place. Votes were weighted so that first place was worth five points, second place worth three points and third place one point. Point totals were tabulated and the company with the most in each was named the winner.

As has been done for the previous seven years, individual category winners were selected in two groups based on their sales volume. Also, manufacturers did not pay a fee to be eligible to receive a vote, which has been customary since the first Award of Excellence competition. Any and all manufacturers of floor covering products in the above- referenced categories were allowed to receive votes.

A record number of voters participated this year—an estimated 550 industry professionals—including flooring retailers, distributors, designers and installers.

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Why sourcing, milling and finish quality matter

May 12/19; Volume 27/Number 27

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 10.49.24 AMBy the time a hardwood floor is installed, the final product has endured a lengthy journey that includes harvesting, transporting, milling, finishing and selling.

There is risk for error at various points throughout the hardwood production process, which is why responsible sourcing, precise milling and proper finish are crucial factors in ensuring a quality product is delivered.

“What distributors and dealers are looking for when selling a hardwood product is peace of mind,” said Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand. “No one wants callbacks due to product defects or low quality.”

Harry Bogner, senior vice president of hardwood at Unilin, a Mohawk company, said the importance of sourcing, milling and finishing becomes clear at various stages of the manufacturing process.

“From the manufacturer’s perspective, high quality milling and finishing ensure that a product will fit together correctly and perform,” he said. “As a manufacturer, I always want to provide a high quality product so I have happy customers who will buy from us again and who will go out and tell all their friends, ‘I have a Mohawk hardwood floor and it is great.’ Also, manufacturers obviously don’t want claims coming in, and quality milling and finishing help avoid that.

“For the consumer, what a hardwood floor really comes down to first and foremost is color,” Bogner continued. “The most important thing to a customer is that the color she ordered is the color she received. After that, it is about durability; is the floor going to hold up? That is where the milling piece comes in.”

Following is a closer look at the important steps that go into a finished hardwood flooring product.

Sourcing

Several flooring companies have joined the National Wood Flooring Association’s (NWFA) Responsible Procurement Program (RPP), a joint initiative between leading environmental groups and industry manufacturers committed to producing and promoting wood floors that come only from environmentally and socially responsible sources.

“Everything we have in our line, whether we manufacture it or it is sourced elsewhere, has to come by verified sources,” said Dan Natkin, director of hardwood and laminate for Mannington, which is a member of the NWFA RPP. “You have to be thorough in this process. The thing is, we have to put our name on these products. We are not some fly-by-night brand.”

Mannington’s mantra, “Make first, source later,” reflects how the company does everything it can to make products in its own facilities. When it has to go outside, it puts its sources through a rigorous stress test—from the financial stability of the company to supply chain and third-party verification.

Other companies, whether affiliated with NWFA RPP or not, are taking similarly proactive approaches. Max Windsor Floors, for example, looks for quality, reliability and responsibility when sourcing hardwood products, according to Peter Spirer, CEO. “Factories in China are priced pretty much alike, so cost isn’t the issue in how we judge suppliers,” he explained. “We don’t depend on the factories for creating new product lines. We prefer to submit the specs and colors for matching. What we need is on-time shipment and maintaining original quality standards. Additionally, the factory management must accept responsibility for manufacturing defects, should they arise.”

To ensure the best quality, Max Windsor uses independent inspectors to check for product color match and construction as the production materials are being packed. Spirer’s management team visits suppliers at least once a quarter to review all issues and plan for new products.

“We are building constructive relationships with our suppliers which extend far beyond the norm,” Spirer said. “The lifeline and ultimate success of an importer is reliant on its factory suppliers. Period. It almost doesn’t matter whether the factory is owned by the importer or is supplying on an OEM basis. What matters most is the continuing dialogue with factory management. Call it brainwashing, training or anything else. It’s the continuity of message that will win the day.”

Ron Oliver, vice president of sales and marketing for Hallmark Flooring, said raw material sourcing has been a significant problem for manufacturers. Hallmark is facing back orders for the first time in five years, primarily for walnut and hickory. However, according to Oliver, the company is better positioned than others to deal with the issue.

“Unlike many others that source in China, we provide the raw material and our own quality control people work in the factories, keeping an eye on the production,” he explained.

“For us, the strength is being able to buy our own logs and lumber, which we have been able to do for the last number of years. To the saw mills, we are not some invisible player; we are actually someone who isScreen Shot 2014-06-17 at 10.50.04 AM buying directly from them.”

Oliver said there is roughly half the capacity in the market as there was five years ago. The reason? The extended downturn rid the industry of many loggers, saw mills and even transportation companies. “While the economy is improving, the diminished infrastructure is putting a squeeze on raw materials,” he said. “You look at ¾-inch solid. Some of the majors have had four, five and even six price increases. From a raw materials standpoint that constitutes a challenge for the industry.”

Milling

Milling is a key step in ensuring a precise fit and easy installation. On the technical side, expertly milled boards should fit together perfectly, with no noticeable variations in thickness. “Milling is extremely important in maintaining consistency and to ensure there are no over-wood issues,” said Drew Hash, vice president of hard surface product marketing, Shaw Industries. “The milling process also gives our floors the structural integrity needed to create a quality hardwood product.”

Bogner added that precision milling is especially critical to ensure planks of click-wood products—such as those from Mohawk, Q-Wood and Columbia—fit tightly together for a strong, lasting connection.

While hardwood manufacturers each utilize different methods for milling, most use digital calipers, a precision instrument that accurately measures internal and external distances.

Mannington uses a tool called Smartscope, which measures profile conformance. Originally designed for high-precision steel work, Smartscope has been adapted for use in flooring. “This system is accurate to the thousandth of an inch and allows us to be extremely consistent from run to run,” Natkin said.

Using a more traditional method, HomerWood employs Amish craftsmen as part of its millwork process. “Quality is everything here,” said Kathy Barker, operations manager at HomerWood. “The differentiator is the hands-on approach, the number of people we have involved in the process, and the speed … which is slow.”

From beginning to end, a team of inspectors (as many as 74) are involved in the millwork. They each make mental notes and physical decisions during the process. “All of our employees are cross trained,” Barker said. “They have a full understanding of the inspection process, and they make decisions every step of the way that affect the final product. From the time it comes in—even when it is unloaded—we have testing and criteria that have to be met. There are checkpoints at each step of the process.”

To assure color consistency, Mohawk vigilantly monitors the color processing during each production run. Trained eyes continuously match to a color master board to ensure that the resulting color is within variance. “Use of improved color booths that simulate multiple light environments also helps ensure that customers can rely on our hardwood to be the most consistent products on the market when it comes to color,” Bogner noted.

Also concerned with meticulous production, once Armstrong’s trees are harvested, the company puts the product through a process that ensures the board has the right moisture content and proper grading. The company’s manufacturing method includes dozens of inspection points, from the moment the wood touches the line until it goes into a box.

“We have 70-plus pairs of eyes look closely to make sure [the floor] meets spec,” said Milton Goodwin, vice president of hardwood products. “We also spend a lot of time on the front end; it starts with the ability to buy quality lumber. The tree we use [in the Appalachian region] grows slowly and has a beautiful look to it; it’s in a part of the world that has no chance of being overharvested.”

Finish

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 10.51.01 AMFinishing hardwood is a crucial point in the milling process, often the determining factor in the purchase decision, as well, executives said. Whether it is to reduce scratches or add beauty, the R&D behind finishes continues to evolve with many companies marketing their own proprietary products.

The European tradition of using oils and wax to create natural wood flooring surfaces is one trend illustrated by the U.S. market. Gary Keeble, product and marketing manager at USFloors, said that at one time USFloors and DuChateau Floors were the only U.S. companies with oil-based finishes. “That was [around] 2007 and 2008; we were it,” he said. “Now I can count at least 10 companies with oil-based finishes.”

Keeble explained that an oil finish provides a “uniquely distinct” look when compared to an aluminum oxide finish. “Oil penetrates into the wood, not on top. The more you oil it, the more it will develop a richer look.”

He added that a disadvantage with aluminum oxide is that it develops micro scratches. “Over time it refracts the light and makes it look dull. Oil doesn’t leave micro scratches; that is one unique benefit it offers.” A floor with an oil-based finish is also usually sold at a higher price, providing dealers with greater margin opportunity.

Among the companies touting new oil-based finishes is DuChateau, which markets a proprietary Hard-Wax Oil finish, described as a non-pollutant, non-toxic, ultra-low VOC product with no biocides or preservatives. According to the company, the special features of the finish allow the oils to penetrate deeply into the wood pores to enhance the look while the wax remains on the surface to maintain a natural matte finish and create a protective layer.

Mirage uses a product called Nanolinx for its prefinished wood flooring. Robitaille said the finish is made of the smallest particles possible. “Nine times smaller than a hair, the crosslinked particles make the finish more flexible to preserve the floor’s original appearance and prevent cracking,” he explained. “Each particle molds perfectly to the shape of the hardwood floor and this creates the clearest finish in the industry. Therefore, it avoids a plastic-look effect that is seen too often with competing products.”